Friday, December 26, 2008

"Avaunt! You are not my equal."

One of the interesting sub-issues associated with the reasons for secession is whether southerners viewed slavery in the territories as primarily a symbolic issue. In other words, did southerners seriously want to move to territories such as Kansas with slaves, or did they view the threatened exclusion of slavery principally as a denial of equality and a matter of honor?

Kenneth S. Greenberg comes down firmly on the side of the issue as a symbolic one:
Southerners always understood the problem of slavery in the territories in a way that would have been familiar to any duelist. Whatever else Northern attempts to exclude slavery from the territories might have meant, it primarily signified a denial of Southern equality. One Virginia Supreme Court justice [identified in the notes as Peter Vivian Daniel], for example, denounced the Wilmot Proviso because it “pretends to an insulting exclusiveness or superiority on the one hand, and denounces a degrading inequality or inferiority on the other: which says in effect to the Southern man, Avaunt! You are not my equal, and hence are to be excluded as carrying a moral taint with you.”

About the illustration:
Democratic candidate James Buchanan, as a buck deer, crosses the finish line of a racecourse ahead of competitors Millard Fillmore and John C. Fremont. Spectators cheer in the stands behind. Fillmore appears as an emaciated horse, fallen on the course. Next, Fremont follows close on the heels of Buchanan. Fremont stands astride two horses: one with the head of New York "Tribune" editor Horace Greeley and the other the "wooly nag" of abolitionism. The latter here more closely resembles a filly than a nag. Greeley: "Monte why didn't you lean more on the wooly horse--you gave me all your weight--never mind we've beat the grey Filly [i.e., Fillmore] next time we'ill head off that hard old Buck." Fremont: "Get out--hang you and the Wooly Horse--I could beat that broken down silver grey "Filly" and the old Buck too--had I gone on my own hook." Fillmore: "Oh! Oh! why did'nt I stay in sweet Italy with my friend King Bomba and the lazy Neapolitans--Then I should not have been blowen up like a Bag of wind in this Chase." Buchanan: "Never mind Gentn. I could not "help" beating you, the American Nation wished it so--I will send you all to Ostend--and I promise you that I will have no Tailors in my white House. [As a youth Fillmore had been apprenticed to a tailor.] Mercy on me! to think that this Glorious People should be almost Pierced to Death [a reference to unpopular Democratic incumbent Franklin Pierce] by War and making Free States in this land of Liberty by a set of Fashion inventores 'I'll none of it.'"


  1. Greenberg is a cultural historian, not a political one. Honor is great, but acquiring two more pro-slavery senators is worth a whole lot more.

  2. Hey, CW, I'm just quoting the man, not necessarily endorsing his views!

    In all seriousness, although I can't say my mind is totally made up, I tend to agree with you to the extent that the core problem was that white southerners saw the preservation and expansion of a slave society as a life-and-death issue, not an abstract one. On the other hand, how many southerners were hitching up their wagons and actually heading for Kansas or New Mexico?


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